I learned to knit during the fitness craze of the early 1980s, when colourful leg warmers were all the rage. Since I’m not the most exercise-focussed person on the planet, I soon moved on to knitting jumpers, and actually kept myself dressed that way all through university.
Later, knitting became the thing to do while watching TV, something to keep my fingers busy so I wouldn’t reach for snacks. But when I gave up TV, my knitting time went with it, and it took me a while to notice that knitting had tapered off in favour of other things.
Fast forward a few years when, out of the blue, I was struggling with staying focussed. Interruptions were everywhere whether I was working or writing. In my worst moments I’d stop in the middle of a task, the middle of a sentence even, to check something on Twitter or Facebook that had no bearing on the work I was doing at the time. And mostly didn’t even interest me. And since I used to pride myself on my total focus when I worked, that sudden inability to concentrate drove me insane.
Eventually I realised that I felt “unproductive” the very moment I paused what I was doing to think about the next step, or the task as a whole. It was as if I’d conditioned myself to feel bad the moment I wasn’t physically doing something, and needed to go and remedy that imemdiately. Even by doing something as mindless and frustrating as checking Facebook or playing Solitaire.
This was a bit of a revelation. In my work, taking the time to think a problem through to the end, to take time to consider it from all angles, is important. When I write, I also often pause to work out plot points, visualise a character, or gaze forwards and back to see whether the story hangs together or I’m losing the pace. If pausing to reflect made me feel lazy, guilty, or simply anxious then I had a problem.
But while I had no idea how I’d gotten myself to that point, I soon had an idea for a solution. I dug out the knitting. Unless I’m attempting something seriously complicated, I can pick up and set down a knitting project without too much trouble. Knitting is something that keeps my hands busy while my mind takes a moment to contemplate and – best of all – it keeps the annoying part of my brain convinced that I’ve not stopped being productive, even if progress on the current task has momentarily stopped.
It seems to work very well and and I have two finished sofa cushions to prove it! After giving away bags and bags of wool when we moved house, I’ve now started to rebuild my stash of yarn and even treated myself to some lovely new needles. Then the fun really started when a friend gifted me a pair of beautifully soft, hand-knitted socks. And I realised I’d never, in all the many years of knitting things, tried to knit a sock.
I couldn’t let a challenge like knitting socks slip through my fingers! And after an enjoyable evening researching simple sock patterns and deciding on knitting socks toe-up rather than top-down, the fun got underway.
Using a slightly thicker yarn, mostly to make sure they knit up quickly and I don’t have to fiddle and squint while working out stitches, yielded a wonderfully warm and cosy sock. And I’m hoping the second one will turn out just as well. Knitting socks while we’re sweltering in a heatwave is, perhaps, counterintuitive, but it helps me work and write much more comfortably – and guarantees cosy toes when the weather decides to get colder!